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How much do fruits & vegetables cost?

Cost, like affordability, is an idea that admits many possibilities. Examining food prices high-lights the range of possible ways to think about costs.

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle and at research institutes in France have compared prices for fruit and vegetables with prices for other foods on both a per calorie and per nutrient basis.

They found that fruit and vegetables are relatively expensive per calorie, but relatively inexpensive per nutrient.

In principle, food costs could be measured in terms of any of the needs consumers are trying to fill by purchasing particular foods.

Sometimes their choices are made to fill caloric needs, sometimes to fill nutritional needs. But taste and convenience have to be satisfied, too.

The many attributes that food manufacturers advertise indicate the numerous dimensions along which consumers make choices. If consumers were concerned only with calories or, for instance, calcium intake, their behavior would look very different than typical consumer behavior.


With only one concern, consumers would specialize, choosing only the one food that is least expensive in terms of their single need.

Here, ERS examines prices for two fruit and three vegetables in terms of the cost to households to satisfy Federal dietary guidelines.

Dietary guidelines recommend that a person who needs 2,000 calories per day consumes 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables daily (2 cups of green leafy vegetables equals 1 cup of vegetables).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in June 2008, a pound of apples cost $1.36 while a pound of carrots cost $0.87.

ERS used conversion factors published by USDA's Food and Nutrition Service to estimate prices per cup. These conversions also account for the portion of the foods that is likely wasted, such as the core of a head of lettuce or the peel of a banana.

The per cup cost of apples and carrots was found to be about 37 cents and 34 cents, respectively. A person needing 2,000 calories per day could meet the dietary recommendations for fruit and vegetables for under $2.50 per day selecting among these five produce items.
 Price, per Price,
 pound (l) per cup

Apples, red delicious $1.36 $0.37
Bananas $0.63 $0.36
Lettuce, iceberg $0.86 $0.16
Tomatoes, field grown $1.81 $0.70
Carrots, short trimmed and topped $0.87 $0.34

(1) Source: USDA, Economic Research Service using Bureau of Lab or
Statistics U.S. city average price data, June 2008. Prices are
national averages and may not reflect prices charged in particular
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Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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